White Privilege

Preface: I could rewrite this 6 ways after 6 different conversations with friends. I'll leave it here. 

Here are two questions about white privilege that I think both sides need to answer.

1.      To the left: At what point will we say that racial inequities are caused by individual choices, not by historical and systemic factors?

We acknowledge that equality of outcome isn’t ideal nor just. Still, in describing racial outcomes in America, pretty much everyone agrees that social-historical factors-- the legacy of wealth, access to opportunity, formal legal discrimination, etc.—need to be addressed. But in what way, and for how long? This is most certainly a question of chicken and egg. What’s the cause – society or choices. Scientifically, it’s impossible to settle, and there is certainly a parallel argument sexual differences in outcome. I might explore that in context of the infamous "google memo." soon.

  • If you’ve agreed with Affirmative Action, at what point will it pass its utility and unfairly reward/punish individual choices?
  • If you think police shootings reflect systematic racism, when would you think they are no longer racist, and that shootings happen because of high crime rates and individual choices when dealing with police?
  • If you think all white people are privileged, when will these privileges dissipate and put white people on even playing fields with other races, say, Asian-Americans?
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Of course, I don’t have the answer to these questions. They seem impossible to answer. However, I think they are crucial to think through when discussing politics across the aisle. Many people have always found affirmative action discriminatory. If you think it had a point at one point, when did that change? Will it change in the future? Why?#RaiseTheDiscourse

This question is also essential because it asks how much of inequality politics can solve. If there are differences in choices that lead to differences in outcome, how far should we go to correct for those differences in outcome? And how will we know if we have gone too far? 

2.      To the right: How can the legacy of racism lead to extralegal/societal factors that edify “white privilege” just Jim Crow and voter suppression did?

It seems simple, but it seems like an important question, given recent superstar Ben Shapiro’s testimony on Capitol Hill and the right’s tendency to disregard any mention of white privilege as anti-white racism. I will be the first to say that a lot of "white privilege" revolves around class, but there are certainly racial aspects.

Here's a very rough genealogy of white privilege. This is such a rough sketch and I would love to be contradicted and informed.

A. Through millenia, every human society has found an in and an out group, and favored that in group. Accompanying this, The brain has developed such a specialized region that identifies faces, and like the rest of the brain, learns to precisely discriminate based on them. (Self-critique - this neuroscience might not be that good. See below.)

B. Legacy of racial oppression. Black people have had their wealth stolen from them, very little access to opportunity, and faced cruel laws that overly punish their identity. 
This means that poverty, and all of its ills, including poorer health and more criminal behavior, has and continues to unequally affect black people. 

C. Laws start promoting racial justice. Much anti-discrimination law is passed, and policies like affirmative action start to take hold. Some conservatives believe that racism has mostly ended, because most of the formal policies that embodied racism have ended.

D. Humans start walking in a world where they have to make complicated decisions based on patterns that they notice. Many of these patterns are reinforced by stereotypes; others are reinforced by real data and real choices. Through stereotypes and reality, they notice that bodies marked with blackness are more likely to be poor, so they start to associate those bodies with markers of poverty - crime, lack of education, etc. Maybe a taxi driver chooses the white passenger rather than the black passenger because they assume the black person might ask them to go to a poorer, high crime neighborhood. Maybe an employer makes a decision to hire someone based on what their name is, because they associate strangely spelled names with lower quality of education...

There’s my genealogy of white privilege. It exists, and it is part racist stereotype and part rational reaction to the patterns in our world. Brains naturally discriminate. It so happens that the environment we inherited for our brain to learn was enormously racialized through our history. Citizens need to do the work to check ourselves, our implicit biases. Policy makers need to alleviate poverty so that our reality doesn’t so closely align with stereotypes and essentialization--think about Native Americans.

SELF-CRITIQUE:

  1. Since drafting this, I spoke with my friend getting a PhD in Neuroscience and he had some critiques. Here's what - some of the neuroscientific studies that I was implicitly citing aren't that reproducible, aren't generalizable outside of a lab with college students, and only tenuously get applied across to the social sciences. Still, I'm leaving the genealogy fully admitting its immaturity and pointing to a possible way neuroscience and the social sciences can intersect.
  2. Since drafting this, I had a conversation about policing and he pointed out some statistics that show how people are really racist even in places where there isn't crime. it's not all rational, some of it is racist. I would probably write this differently with those statistics. 
  3. Maybe you think that somehow this whole post was just a rationalization and masking of my white privilege. I'm just as biased as the rest of us poor souls. If you think I just defended my white privilege, or have a view that would help me be more anti-racist, politely disagree and point it out. Thanks. 

 

 

CAUTIONARY CONCLUSION

Despite the reality of my white privilege, I don’t think the concept has a place in most arguments. Most of us aren’t worried about communities, we are worried about individuals. Whatever color you are, you are not reduced to your race; get out and bust your ass to better yourself. If you have a privilege, its better that you use it than you feel guilt about it.

Quite often, white privilege is often used as a character based identity attack. Please don't lose allies - most us beneficiaries of white privilege feel thus: “if you want to cite instances of racism that we can all find and fight together, that is something that I am more willing to stand next to you and fight.” Ben Shapiro.

Telling someone that they have white privilege doesn't promote. Let’s get some facts and work together.


TL;DR
 

Questions

  • To the left: When will we argue that differences in outcome, pay gaps, white privilege, etc. result not from systemic, historical factors, but from individual choices? 
  • To the right: Can't extra-legal factors cause white privilege? How do you know all differences in outcome result from individual choices? 

Quick Hits

A few stand-up comedian takes on White privilege. They're comedians. Don't get triggered. 

Take Aways

1.      If you want to convince people, get your facts right and come with specifics. Every time a liberal spouts nonsense about white privilege and systemic racism, a conservative gets a raging hard-on. If you bring good, specific, data, you’ll at least have learned yourself, even if you don't convince anyone.

2.      Stop calling people racist. Stop calling people names. Let's try to divide less, and conquer more.

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